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Communicating in Math

Posted on February 10, 2012 by Michelle

Why is communication important in mathematics?

Communication is an essential piece in the learning process – it provides students an opportunity to justify their reasoning or formulate a question, leading to gained insights about their thinking. In order to communicate their thinking to others, students must be given authentic tasks to reflect on. Through cooperative learning, students can learn from the perspectives and mathematical processes of others. Further, they can learn to evaluate the thinking of others, building on those ideas for their own assessment.

Check out this Scholastic webinar on “Connecting the Literacy and Math Challenge”.

Teaching Strategies for Mathematical Communication

1. Math Word Walls

The purpose of the Math Word Wall [MWW] is to identify mathematical language that students need to understand and use. If they are unfamiliar with this vocabulary, they will struggle to effectively apply strategies in the problem-solving process and will have difficulty communicating their thinking with others.

♦ Introduce math vocabulary using relevant objects, pictures and/or diagrams. Visuals are KEY!

♦ Clearly explain word meanings and make connections frequently

♦ Do not teach math vocabulary in isolation — use open-ended questions to helping students understand mathematical ideas and model how to use mathematical terms correctly.

Check out these MWW resources – ideas for math walls and mathematics word wall

2. Children’s Math Literature

Using literature in math can spark students’ imaginations, helping to dispel the myth that math is dull, inapplicable, and inaccessible. Reading about math can help reach at-risk students who struggle in the mathematical process, opening their minds to the ever-present phenomenon in their world that is math!

  • Integrate the curriculum — teach mathematical concepts and skills through literacy
  • Helps to motivate and engage students in problem-solving experiences connected with real world
  • Addresses different learning styles and helps to promote an appreciation for both math and literature

Check out these resources for teaching mathematics through literature —

Math in Children’s Literature

Living Math Book List

Children’s Math Literature

Math Book List

Children’s Literature in Mathematics

 3. Writing in Math

When students are encouraged to write in math, they examine, express, and keep track of their thinking, which is especially useful for assessment and differentiation. To enhance and support their learning, students must first understand the reasoning behind writing in math. Further, they need to understand how to write in math – explain and model mathematical writing using details such as pictures, numbers, and words. Students’ writing can be used as springboards for classroom ‘math chats’, highlighting different approaches to problem-solving.

Be sure to provide writing prompts

  • What do you think? What idea do you have?
  • What are you confused about?
  • What did you learn?
  • Describe what was easy and hard for you.
  • What type of math concepts do you find interesting?  Why?
  • When I hear this math word, I think….
  • If I could ask for one thing in math, it would be…
  • Tell me about your prediction.  Were you right or wrong?
  • What strategies do you like to use the most? The least? Why?

Check out Writing to Learn Math to get started with journaling in your math class!

4. Math Talk

When students are given an opportunity to talk about math, they are better able to clarify their own thinking, ‘talk out’ misconceptions, and learn from others’ problem-solving strategies. It is the role of the teacher to facilitate these discussions by engaging students in sharing and listening, questioning and responding, and agreeing and disagreeing. During ‘math chats’, the teacher can further assess students’ understanding of concepts and redirect or differentiate instruction based on the students’ immediate learning needs.

However, the classroom must be a safe and inclusive learning environment so that students feel comfortable to share and make mistakes publically. Students need clear, highly set expectations on what ‘doing math’ looks like, sounds like, and feels like in the classroom. Once the ground rules for respect have been established, then authentic mathematical dialogue and collaboration can evolve…that’s when the real learning begins!

Math think-alouds can engage students and help them to make their way step-by-step through the problem-solving process. Best of all, they can be used quite effectively both in school and at home! For more on getting students to talk, check out these Math Teacher Tools!

Watch as these students from the Calgary Science School ‘talk math’ – thanks to Amy Park for sharing!

– – –

How do you […or will you] encourage communication in math in your classroom?

Original post at The Learning Journey Blog


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1 to “Communicating in Math”

  1. TeacherRayl says:

    I LOVE Amy’s video. That’s exactly how we should be teaching math: asking a question that children are interested and allowing them to solve it however makes sense to them. And what clever students, too!

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